Thursday, November 10, 2005

Lasering Lemke - Issue 4

Originally posted on SBCCALVINIST.COM on NOV 10, 2005 at 9:00am

Issue 4 – Hyper-Calvinistic Soteriology "Will Baptists change their soteriology such that persons are no longer seen as having any capacity to respond to God’s invitation to salvation? Will Baptists take a “hyper-Calvinist turn” than hinders missions and evangelism?"

OK, I’ll admit it. Dr. Lemke frustrates me with his choice of wording as he asks the questions. I have to be honest. I believe he is predisposing his hearers and guiding his audience with his own bias and toward his conclusions before he submits his answers.

Why couldn’t he just have asked simply – Will Southern Baptists become more Calvinistic in the future and what are the ramifications if such a shift takes place?

I cannot for the life of me think of one Southern Baptist Calvinist who believes that lost people have no capacity to respond to God’s invitation to salvation! And furthermore I don’t ever remember even hearing of one!

There, I’ve vented the first of my frustrations. Now let’s get on with the substance of Dr. Lemke’s observations.

The first statement that Lemke makes that I’d like to challenge is when he states, “Throughout its history, the Southern Baptist Convention has swung periodically toward and away from Calvinism.” I simply do not believe that this statement can be proven. In fact, I believe that the theological movement within the Southern Baptist Convention has been consistently and almost universally away from Calvinism until the final three decades of the last century.

Dr. Paul A. Basden in his book Has Our Theology Changed? Southern Baptist Thought Since 1845, wrote the chapter on Predestination. He clearly shows that the SBC has moved since 1845 from a very strong Calvinistic theology through a more moderate Calvinistic position to a pragmatic Arminianism which tends to presently dominate the convention. The writings of Thomas Nettles and Timothy George represent the first movement back toward Calvinism in SBC academic circles. And while Dr. Basden does not cover the Founders Movement per se, it is safe to say that the Founders represent the grassroots movement that has paralleled the academic movement. The current theological movement toward Calvinism in the SBC is unprecedented.

The second statement that Dr. Lemke makes that drew my attention has to do with his not so subtle connection of “hard hyper-calvinism” to the Founders movement. He offsets this with a glowing mini-review of Timothy George’s doctrinal study book Amazing Grace: God’s Initiative – Our Response. Without getting into personalities there seems to be a bit of divide and conquer strategy being employed here. We’ll embrace the “soft” Calvinists and go after the “hard” Calvinists, using our definitions of course. I personally think that Dr. George has more in common theologically with the Founders Movement than he would with this caricature of “soft” Calvinism that Dr. Lemke draws from Dr. George’s work.

And you tell me – do you really know any hard hyper-Calvinists who are successful at pastoring SBC Churches? I don’t. But I do know that there are pastors all across the theological spectrum in Southern Baptist life who are incompetent and inept. Calvinists are certainly not immune to that problem. I suspect that “hard hyper-Calvinist” SBC Pastors are few and far between and while they give a bad name to all SBC Calvinists they are quickly unemployed and not a real threat to the SBC.

Let me preface my next comments by saying that if Dr. Lemke had stopped writing before he included the “study” that he and a colleague did on the churches that are listed as Founder friendly on the Founders' website then we would have all agreed that Dr. Lemke is OK. This is merely a friendly discussion and everything is fairly represented from Dr. Lemke’s perspective. We SBC Calvinists understand that perspective. We can live with it and we can cooperate with it with no problems. In fact we applaud the good things that Dr. Lemke says about us Calvinists. We appreciate the fact that he and Dr. Kelley have hired Calvinists at NOBTS. Let’s all go get a cup of coffee and talk about how we’re going to work together to get the SBC out of the decline it’s in.

But no, Dr. Lemke has to inject this “unscientific study”; this absolutely absurd study into the discussion! Now this raises the question. Does Dr. Lemke have a hidden agenda? Why would he admit to having a part in hiring Calvinists at NOBTS and then do a chop job on Calvinists at large in the SBC?

What Dr. Lemke doesn’t tell you about the “study.”

The churches listed on the Founders' website are voluntary listings, usually listed by the pastor of the church WITHOUT formal permission of the church.

The churches listed on the Founders' website are NOT ALL of the Founders Friendly churches in the SBC, nor are all of the listed churches Founder Friendly!

With the current climate of hostility, suspicion and misinformation about Calvinism in the SBC, many Calvinistic pastors are reluctant to declare their affinity to the Founders publicly where that information can be used by denominational workers and associational directors of missions to profile pastors in their state or associations.

Many of the small churches if not the majority listed on the Founders' website were small before the Founders Friendly pastor arrived and many of them were in decline long before they heard a Calvinistic sermon from a Founders Friendly pastor.

The findings of the "study" support the a priori convictions of the researchers without any reference to unscientific methodology employed or the incompleteness and unreliability of the data. It's interesting to note that the President of the SBC, chose this "study" from Lemke's paper to highlight his concern over Calvinism and the Great Commission.

Dr. Lemke may really be a friend to Calvinists in the SBC but he has a strange way of showing his friendship and I dare say that after this “study” has been circulated his reputation as a scholar and as a friend will be tainted at least in Founders Friendly circles.

The prediction and warning of issue four simply stated by Dr. Lemke says, “The resurgence of Calvinism will slow over the next few decades, but will exert a stronger influence on the SBC in the future than has been the case in many years.”

I’m just a little confused. How can the resurgence of Calvinism slow while exerting stronger influence on the SBC? I think the opposite will occur and Dr. Lemke has contributed by making this debate much more visible than it was before he published his paper. What Dr. Lemke and others who are publicly alarmed at the resurgence of Calvinism will learn the hard way is that the more controversy that erupts over the issue, the more interest in Calvinism will be stirred among the rank and file Southern Baptists. As more rank and file Southern Baptists read the works of Tom Nettles and Timothy George and are exposed to the Doctrines of Grace they will become more Founders Friendly not less.

That the President of the SBC took Dr. Lemke’s work and used it as evidence against Calvinism proves one incontrovertible fact. Regardless of the real reasons behind the continued decline of the Southern Baptist Convention, Calvinistic Southern Baptists will catch the majority of the blame.

We will be the convenient whipping boy.

Get used to it.


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